Lessons in Finding Your Passion and Your Purpose

Lessons on finding your passion from charity, the classroom and the board room can put your job search on a different track.

Raison d’etre.

I just love that phrase. It means, “reason for existence.” If you want to maintain your enthusiasm and make the effective decisions necessary to accelerate your career, it is critical to take the time to clarify the purpose of your career, the purpose of your work group and the purpose of your organization.

Being excited all day won’t help you find a purpose in your work. Knowing the reason why you, your group and your organization do what you do will generate a steady flow of passion even in the worst of times as long as you really believe in the purpose of that work. If not, then find the work that has the purpose you want.

My book, “The Management 500,” is about management lessons from the history of auto racing. As I peeled back the layers of the auto-racing onion, I found a heart. A great, big, pulsating heart.

The secret to the success of NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1 racing is passion. Drivers, engineers, mechanics, crew chiefs, crew members and fans alike derive incredible passion from a simple purpose: a desire to win the race.

One of my favorite moments in my research was finding an original copy of Enzo Ferrari’s 1964 autobiography. One sentence stands out above all the others. He wrote:

“Fate is to a good extent in our own hands if we only know clearly what we want and are steadfast in our purpose.”

Coming in second: a sports example

Carl Edwards was named the NASCAR.com 2008 Driver of the Year. How did he do it? He finished in second place in both the season-long NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the season-long NASCAR Nationwide Series. This means that from February through November of 2008, Carl competed successfully over the course of 36 races in two different leagues. It would be like a professional baseball team coming in second in the American League and second National League in the same season. And where does his passion come from? He has an extraordinary desire to win races.

Articulating your purpose: a not-for-profit example

Dan Harbaugh is president of Ronald McDonald House Charities in St. Louis. He is one of the most consistently passionate people I’ve ever met. I’ve known Dan for 10 years and have seen him make presentations to hundreds of people, have discussions in small groups and attend seminars as a student in the very best of economic times and the very worst. In every situation he brings an extraordinary degree of passion. Where does this passion come from and how can he possibly sustain it so consistently? The answer lies in his purpose. He absolutely believes in the purpose of RMHC, which is primarily to provide a home away from home for the families of very sick children. With that purpose in mind, he continues to march forward with enthusiasm.

Helping others: a small-business example

Elaine Floyd is a small-business owner with two busy teenagers and a very busy husband. She is one of the most passionate people I’ve met in the past 15 years. She is the president of EFG Inc., which helps clients craft their messages into professionally published books. From where does Elaine draw her passion? She finds enormous excitement and satisfaction in helping other people get out their message by combining cutting-edge computer technology with the creative flair of high-end book publishing.

Remembering the little things: an education example

Matt Miller is a grade-school principal. He brings more passion to his work than almost anyone I know. I’ve seen him get four hundred kids to scream and yell about reading books. I’ve seen him get students to cheer for each other for being kind to one another. I’ve seen him wander into classrooms, accept trays in the cafeteria and pat kids on the back. I’ve seen him snap two fingers and get hundreds of loud kids to become instantly quiet. And where does his daily enthusiasm come from? He wants kids to succeed in life, and he understands that it’s the little things that make for long-term, life-long success.

Supporting someone else’s purpose

Roy Spence is chairman and CEO of GSD&M Idea City, which over the past 20 years has been the advertising agency for BMW, AT&T, Wal-Mart, AARP, Southwest Airlines, the PGA Tour, American Red Cross, and a host of other major organizations. He is the most passionate person I’ve ever met, and his purpose is to help organizations make a difference in the world. And he’s very good at it. Every time I walked into GSD&M’s building, I felt as though I was stepping into the Disney Company back in the 1930s, when Walt Disney was actively involved. The creative energy pulsated throughout the building.

In the more than 40 meetings I attended at GSD&M, someone asked the same question: “How will this idea support the purpose of this client’s business?” Everything at GSD&M Idea City revolved around this question. If the idea did not support the client organization’s purpose for existence, then it was rejected. It was this passionate commitment to finding and supporting the client’s purpose that helped lead to extraordinary breakthrough results for many of these organizations.

Simplification: a management-consulting example (mine!)

Our purpose at The Coughling Company is to democratize great management performance. We empower executives and managers in all types of organizations to achieve great performance by demystifying and simplifying management processes that can be applied immediately.

The reason why The Coughlin Company exists: We want executives and managers in every organization to be able to convert resources into value that drives extraordinary, sustainable results. We believe great management performance is the foundation for an ongoing strong economy and that it can happen in any organization.

Downtime is a terrific time to prepare for greatness

If your career or business has slowed, don’t waste a minute worrying. Instead use this time to clarify your answers to these three critically important questions:

  • Why do I do what I do for a living?
  • Why does my work group exist?
  • What purpose is our organization (or your career) trying to fulfill?

The first step to building an extraordinary career, team and organization is to know the reason behind the activities. This clarification will help you and others decide what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. With a clear purpose, you can sustain a focused effort over the long term and generate extraordinary results.